Maps: The New “Killer App” in Supply Chain Software?

The iPhone 5 was released last month, and although Apple made some notable enhancements to the phone’s design and sold 5 million units the first weekend, most of the buzz has been about one thing: how inferior Apple Maps is compared to Google Maps, which prompted Apple CEO Tim Cook to issue an apology and recommend using mapping solutions from competitors while they work on the problem.

Who knew we loved our maps so much? And is it only a question of time before that love extends to our business apps?

On Monday, Nokia announced a mapping deal with Oracle. Here is an excerpt from the press release:

Nokia announced today that Oracle has developed a simple, built-in link between Oracle Fusion Middleware MapViewer and the Nokia Location Platform (NLP). This link removes the barrier of a customized map integration and extends the benefits of global maps for business use to Oracle users [emphasis mine].

SAP and Google formed a similar mapping partnership in July 2011, as I highlighted in “The ‘Where’ Dimension of Business Intelligence.” Here’s an excerpt from the press release, followed by a video demo: “With location-based intelligence capabilities, SAP envisions bringing corporate information to life via Google’s dynamic, interactive map, satellite and even street-level views. As a result, customers could analyze their businesses in a geospatial context to effectively understand the “where” of their information, as well as global, regional and local trends and how they are impacted by different scenarios — helping to increase efficiency and profitability, among other benefits.”

In the supply chain software market, mapping and navigation technologies are not completely new. Transportation management systems, specifically routing and scheduling solutions, have embedded these technologies for many years (see Descartes’ acquisition of GeoMicro from earlier this year). And network design solutions have also used mapping technology to help users visualize different scenarios. What’s new or different today is that thanks to various factors — including improvements in software architectures and integration schemes, faster and cheaper computing power, and the rise of mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets — mapping is transitioning from being a niche feature in a handful of software applications to becoming a “must have” capability across the enterprise.

And in some cases, mapping is now the centerpiece of the application and the primary user interface. A good example is Sourcemap, a startup founded at MIT that aims to help companies map their supply chains, from raw materials to end customers, which then helps them with risk management and carbon footprinting (among other things). Check out the video below for an overview.

Maybe calling maps a “killer app” is taking it too far, but it’s clear to me that maps will ultimately become ubiquitous in supply chain software applications, and they will be the way many users will choose to see and interact with data. And it’s also clear to me, as I’ve said many times before and Apple just learned the hard way, that data quality matters. All of those beautifully rendered maps will be worthless if the underlying location and meta data — as well as the business data layered over it — is inaccurate, incomplete, or outdated. Data quality is the difference between a picture being worth a thousand words or being completely worthless — or worse, leading to poor decisions that result in lost time and money, wasted resources, and unhappy customers.

(Note: Descartes, Oracle, and SAP are ARC clients)


  1. For maps to add more value, we have to do more thinking about how we present them. For example, in routing, showing all your routes on a map leads to something that looks like spaghetti. But having a ship to location show up in red, and then being able to drill down to the problem does have value. Users love maps. But before software product managers invest in them, better business use cases, based on clever ways to display data in a map format, may need to be developed.

  2. Great article on maps. You are 100% correct that location intelligence will be a critical application for operations and logistics organizations. Specifically when it comes to predictive analytics, location intelligence is the cornerstone for real time, operational logistics apps. We have seen this in action in operations centers, and now on mobile apps similar to what you see in the video. This demo is a a tiny step forward for what is possible and what we are seeing with our customers and technology. We are an SAP partner and have long been the leading provider of Google Maps powered analytics for the SAP BusinessObjects stack. The value is not just placing data points on a map. As you indicate, it is the business applications that are critical.

    I cover these application in great detail in a couple of webinars that I just did about location intelligence:

    I would love to host a meetup on Google + or some kind of other web discussion with you and your readership to dive deeper into the specific logistics applications that we see and what kind of opportunities readers see and I am more than happy to provide some insight.

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